What would happen if The Stepford Wives took place at a summer camp? You would probably end up with something similar to the book Brain Camp from First Second.
Brain Camp centers on two children, Jenna and Lucas, who receive a miraculous invitation to a prestigious summer camp for gifted children. The problem is that they have not shown any academic aptitude whatsoever. They have, however, shown themselves to be the black sheep of their families. Their parents leap at the chance to send the kids to camp and practically shove them out the door! This seems like the quick-fix-magic-bullet that will make their kids “perfect”.
When they arrive at camp, Jenna and Lucas are turned off by the disgusting food and the overly competitive nature of the the groups. Only the cabins that perform particularly well receive any kind of reward (decent food!). As the two kids plan their escape, they become aware that the strange complexities of camp life betray a dark secret…a secret that the camp directors will do anything to keep buried. A thwarted escape plan leads to a discovery sick children, dead birds, and a seemingly complicit community.
Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan, and Faith Erin Hicks have created a very good teen comic. The campers are immediately identifiable as outcasts, first at home, and then at camp. They feel alienated from their families. They want to be left to be themselves. They are happy with who they are and do not want to change just to meet the desires of their families. Along the way they encounter typical teen puberty horrors ( the onset of menstruation for girls, wet dreams for boys) while trying to deal with the camp-based horrors that are happening all around them. These are real teens with real problems who have been dropped in to an surreal situation.
The plot speeds along at a break-neck pace that does not invite much time for thought, which is a good thing since there are several plot holes through which you could drive a riding lawnmower. But Brain Camp is not, despite its title, an intellectual book. It is an adventure story that takes place at a summer camp. It is Goonies. It is Gremlins. It is every pre-teen movie that convinced us that adventure was hidden just beneath the surface of our otherwise mundane lives. And, for that, Brain Camp is a success.
While Brain Camp may not find much of an audience with older readers, it is the perfect book for Tweens and younger teens looking for something fun to read! The art is accessible, the story is engaging, and the payoff is enjoyable. Pack this book with your child when you send them off to summer camp!